In a previous life, The Pillars offered fresh Gulf Coast cuisine in an atmosphere of 19th century opulence. The former restaurant â€” considered by many as one of Mobileâ€™s most venerated â€” attracted national media attention from the likes of the Food Network. Celebrity chef Bobby Flay of "Food Nationâ€ť even visited.
The white two-story mansion at the nexus of Airport Boulevard and Government Street that housed The Pillars was built in 1905 as a private residence for Dr. Parker Glass. Afterwards the house had a somewhat checkered existence, the low point of which undoubtedly came in the 1930s when it was converted to a rooming house. Afterwards, when the house was restored to its former grandeur, its high ceilings and ornate columns set the tone for many an elegant and romantic evening for a wide swath of Mobile citizenry.
Guests dined under opulent stained-glass windows in rooms floored with original mosaic tiles. Signature dishes at the time included Whiskey Smoked Shrimp and Stilton-stuffed filet of beef with lump crabmeat.
Established in 1976, The Pillars quickly became a much-loved institution. It was purchased by Matt and Regina Shipp in 2002 and maintained a position of prominence in the city until February of 2010. When the couple relocated their family to Orange Beach and opened Shippâ€™s Harbor Grill, running two restaurants became overwhelming.
With a leaky roof, freeze-damaged pipes and a laundry list of other items that required attention, the couple ultimately decided to put the restaurant up for sale. A brief fire that broke out six months later at the abandoned building seemed to emphasize the dubious future for the 45,000-square-foot Loop-area site.
Not anymore. Today, the property has completed a total facelift according to Cameron Weavil, Vice President at the Weavil Company.
"Being one of Mobileâ€™s landmarks, The Pillars has been renovated to its historical state as well as updated with modern amenities. Architect Douglas Kearley was hired to create a functional building while preserving the historic look,â€ť Weavil said. "The original tile and wood floors remain in the building as well all the beautiful chandeliers. The HVAC was reworked to higher than standard and the kitchen appliances are not commercial, but are high grade residential. A new Mexican clay tile roof was put on during the renovation. The building is 6,300 square feet and consists of seven large offices, a conference room, a solarium, a kitchen and a large reception area.â€ť
The vision of the owner is to lease the building as a company headquarters, law firm, engineering firm, or possibly a restaurant again. As would be the case at any location, the proper permits would have to be obtained by the tenant for their specific use. The new tenant would also pay for all utilities and maintenance, but would enjoy an abundance of parking. Located minutes from downtown and in relative close proximity to the Brookley Aeroplex, new businesses arriving into the Port City may very well find accommodating office space at an unquestionably iconic location.
Bernanke optimistic on housing market
Recently, Federal Reserve Chief Ben Bernanke gave a cautiously optimistic view of the U.S. housing market, saying evidence suggested the market had bottomed out over the last year and is now recovering. He noted that home prices across the country dropped 30 percent or more from their peak since the beginning of the financial crisis. He also remarked that housing prices have crept up over the last year and that thereâ€™s been significant improvement seen in new housing construction.
This bodes well for the local as well as national economy. In prior recessionary downturns, a recovery in housing signified a major upswing in overall economic good fortune. That said, here is an abbreviated list of positive developments:
In December 2012, the S&P Price Index rose 4.3 percent in the 12 months ending in October in its 20-city composite. Some of the nationâ€™s hardest hit markets showed some of the best rebounds.
When the housing market cratered in 2008, nearly one in six homeowners â€” about 12 million â€” owed more on their mortgages than their homes were worth. Today, according to JP Morgan Chase, that number stands at about 8 million and it could fall to 4 million within two years. This is because home values are rising and should continue to rise.
During 2012, national home sales rose 6 percent to 4.2 million. The market hasnâ€™t seen an increase in home sales since 2005.
The stock prices of homebuilders are rising. MDC Holdings, Toll Brothers, KB Home and PulteGroup all grew by more than 50 percent during 2012, indicating that investors are confident in their prospects.
Last year there were a total of 780,000 housing starts, and some experts forecast starts could reach upwards of 1.5 million in 2013. For example, if 500,000 additional home starts were added this year â€” driving the number to just 1.28 million â€” that would create an additional $75 billion to the economy compared to 2012 (assuming an average investment of $150,000 per home).
If the economy starts showing convincing signs of real strength, the Federal Reserve might let historically low interest rates start to rise. That could create a rush to buy homes, which in turn would drive both housing prices and mortgage rates higher. There are new checks and balances in place now to consider, however. First, still painfully fresh in the memories of many consumers are drastically falling home prices. This should increase buyer inclination towards conservative behavior to not pay prices beyond their means. Second, demographic trends will limit the number of new families needing housing.
Finally, banks are now much more cautious about loan amounts and should be more aligned to the repayment capabilities of borrowers due to a stricter approval process.
Airbus briefing observations
According to Paul Carter, owner of the Paul Carter Agency, the majority of the nigh 1,000 attendees at the recent Airbus briefing werenâ€™t local.
"During the two-hour meeting, I noticed people in the audience from all over the US. A few appeared to be from other countries. I didnâ€™t recognize anyone locally with the exception of a representative of Bayou Concrete, a commercial realtor, and some members of the City Council,â€ť Carter said.
"For me, there was very little new information. An email or video presenting the same details might have sufficed. Overall, however, they seem to really have their act together. Iâ€™m very excited about the prospect of working with Airbus to find homes for their employees.â€ť